Category: Armenia

Armenia and Israel: Politically Divorced, Culturally United, an article by David Garyan

30/10/2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

Armenia and Israel: Politically Divorced, Culturally United

In this time of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the latter being supported by Turkey and Islamic jihadists, I really don’t know if the ordinary people of these respective nations can really be friends anymore. Even before the conflict, it’s difficult to deny that ethnic tensions—between common individuals as well—have always existed. Indeed, as mature adults, we can all take part in the song and dance of politeness; we can even smile at each other without placing any warmth into our gestures; we can pretend and continue to live as if nothing serious is happening or has happened in the past, but this would all be a lie. In the end, the shallow politeness thoroughly meaningless because, let’s face it, for a Turkish person, it’s easier to establish a sense of camaraderie with someone from Azerbaijan, and, likewise, an Armenian would face fewer challenges becoming friends with individuals from Greece, just as an example.

Many times already I’ve stated that as an idealist in the Don Quixote style I’ve always thought and continue to think that everyone deserves to be judged based on their own experiences and traits, but why is this so difficult to do? Moreover, why can it be that the former premise’s logic sounds so true on the surface, yet, the very fundamental argument itself should be so hard to embrace in real life? In the most realistic sense, I don’t think it’s quite controversial to say, just as an example, that ordinary Jews and Palestinians would have a harder time forming lasting friendships with each other than with another party whose nation both individuals, respectively, aren’t engaged in a conflict with; let’s stop being idealistic for a second and recognize that wars between states (whether historical or current), genocides (again, historical or current), or any other conflicts certainly do affect, to a large extent, how everyday citizens affected by them will engage one another.

Why is the truth so hard to accept? The victims, in the case of the Jewish nation, for example, can be comforted in their suffering (relatively speaking) if the perpetrator—Germany—takes every conceivable step to not only apologize but also make amends. Even after all the reparations Germany has paid over the years—even after all the genocide memorials it has erected (like the one below in Berlin, which I visited in 2018) to commemorate the Shoah, many survivors of that tragic event, like Sonia Warshawski, still refuse to “forgive,” which is understandable, as per her logic.

For Warshawski, who stated the following, forgiveness was something that had to come from God, not herself: “I shall never forget. I shall never forgive. Why I say I cannot forgive? Because forgiveness, in my opinion, has borders. How in the world can I tell you I forgive? I will feel ashamed, embarrassed, what I have seen those people dying, those terrible things. Who am I that I can forgive? This has to come from a higher power. Not from me. This is impossible. I would be wrong.” Her statement makes sense in the end because she ultimately concludes it by saying there’s no hatred in her heart; that would be self-destructive, but forgiveness is another thing.

If that’s the standard we were to apply, then, how are Armenians supposed to feel anything but animosity towards the Turkish state, which has, for one, made no attempt to pay any reparations, and secondly, refused to recognize our own suffering; in addition, what are we supposed to do when, to this day, the vehement campaign of denial continues? It naturally benefits the perpetrator’s state (both in terms of politics and mentality) for the victim to stay silent and pretend like nothing has happened. In this respect, to be quite honest, I’m always a little upset when Turkish people are extremely nice to me. Although I appreciate it, I often feel cheated because while their gestures can be interpreted in very positive ways, the positivity of such “friendliness” also plays a large role in pushing this unresolved issue of the genocide, along with the general tension between us (which does exist), further into the corner; that’s exactly what I mean by the song and dance of politeness—the more “positive” it is, the more damage it really does, and the harder it tries to be friendly, the more forceful this effort of taking out the obvious “tension” from the equation becomes.

Now, am I saying Jews and Palestinians can’t be friends? No, because there are plenty examples of that and even marriages between the two (the most famous being a celebrity union between Lucy Aharish, the “first Arab to anchor a Hebrew-language program on Israeli television,” according to Deutsche Welle, and Tzachi Halevi, an Arabic speaking Jewish actor who appeared in a Netflix TV show called Fauda). Suffice it to say, there was plenty of backlash, according to that same Deutsche Welle article, which only proves my point, but still, things like this happen and are by no means an impossibility. “We’re signing a peace accord,” the couple joked to an Israeli newspaper.

Likewise, am I saying Armenians and Turks can only hate each other? No, because there are plenty examples which prove the contrary and marriages too. Like in the case of Israelis and Palestinians, just think of the Turkish-born Armenian academic Daron Acemoglu (one of the pre-eminent economists in the world and the most cited one in the past ten years who married his Turkish spouse—another academic, Asuman Özdağlar, with whom he has two children).

Indeed, things like this may and do happen, but that’s not the point at all. While Acemoglu’s marriage hasn’t brought about the same criticism as the aforementioned Israeli-Palestinian one, it’s nevertheless a rare occurrence because of the animosities that such marriages can create, as we’ve already seen. What I’m saying, thus, is that it’s better, especially now, not to deceive ourselves regarding the tension which exists and has always existed between our peoples. To say that Armenians respect Turks and Azeris as much as they respect everyone else would be a mistake because that’s not true by any stretch of the imagination, and neither is it true for the other parties involved. If we pretend there are no problems and continue going about our business, smiling at each other, continuing the song and dance of politeness, then we miss the chance to solve the very issues we have—entirely for the reason that we do continue going about our lives in a manner that suggests there are no problems at all. We pretend there are none, so there must be none. Resolutions, however, don’t come out of nowhere; they arise precisely out of conflicts, and only through our willingness to face them can they truly manifest.

Well, why am I saying all of this—the article is about Jewish and Armenian cultural connections, solidarity, and similarities. Like all of my pieces that meander, however, there’s also a point, here, for all that I’ve written as well. Now that Israel is openly selling weapons to Azerbaijan and making no qualms about it, the natural tendency would be to ignore the problem and go on with our existence; nevertheless, I think this approach would entail making the same mistake as I’ve described above—the pleasant song and dance of politeness that means absolutely nothing to anybody.

Instead of playing games with my emotions and hiding the way I feel, I would like to come out and say that, yes, I’m deeply troubled and upset by the realpolitik Israel is conducting. As a nation which has endured genocide as well, and one which actively promotes their suffering as “unique” from what other people have suffered, I find it rather discouraging that their government would act in this manner.

Naturally, it’s quite unfortunate that, unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia has very little it can offer Israel, as highlighted by a recent opinion piece published in Haaretz, aptly titled, “Disunited by Genocide: How Armenia’s Relations With Israel Have Come to a Dead End.” Indeed, as the author says, firstly, we don’t have oil; secondly, we neither have money to buy Israeli weapons nor can we provide the much-needed bases for their planes to use in case Iran gets belligerent—it’s imperative for us to get along with Iran because together with Georgia (the only other border open to us) we have no more outlets to the world. However, Israel hates Iran because it’s their number one enemy, and so it goes ad nauseam; furthermore, Israel has been relying on Azeri oil for decades and the former’s relations with Iran aren’t exactly great. Isn’t it just a wonderful example of having your hands tied? As the author writes, “From Israel’s perspective, the notional brotherhood between Armenians and Jews, sharing the same destiny as victims of genocide, was not as meaningful as robust economic, strategic, and cultural relations with Turkey.” Enough said.

Truly, in the end, it doesn’t matter that Jerusalem—one of the holiest sites in the world—has an Armenian Quarter; it doesn’t matter that both people suffered unspeakable horrors and that there are many Armenians who protected Jews during the Shoah (according to the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, there are 24 such names to be found among the Righteous Among the Nations); it doesn’t matter that Armenians will forever be indebted to some of the greatest Jewish writers like Franz Werfel, Vasily Grossman, and Osip Mandelstam (pictured below in his more fortunate years) for bringing international attention to their suffering. None of this culture, solidarity, and history really matters for politics because it’s no different than trying to feed a starving person with religion; it’s all good and well, but the lofty sentiments are simply of no use for the person who needs something tangible—food, clothing, and oil, perhaps.

By no means am I drawing a parallel between Israel and a starving person; what I am doing is highlighting the fact that for countries to ensure political stability, they need something more than lofty ideals to bring it about. We can’t offer Israel any of that because like them, we find ourselves, once again, in the same position of being surrounded by hostile powers—the US, thousands of miles away, is basically the only lifeline Israel has, while Russia, much nearer for us, is our own equivalent. We must play by their tune or risk being wiped out, and, thus, any Western reform that Armenia wants to institute—well, it better think twice about that, because if Russia doesn’t like it, then goodbye to that security, which is by and large exactly how things transpired during the leadership of the progressive Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who most likely took it a little too far with his ambitious Western reforms; Russia is, hence, not to “rushing” to help us during our most pressing time of need. After all, it’s not difficult to imagine what Putin is thinking: If you want help, go ask America and Europe, both of whom you’ve been courting these past two years. Fair enough, I guess.

Again, what’s the point? The point is precisely politics and it’s nothing personal. At the end of the day, although I’m angry with Israel’s continued selling of weapons to Azerbaijan, I can’t let go of my sympathy towards the Jewish people themselves, along with the solidarity our people ultimately share, and the impact their writers and artists have made on our culture, and visa versa. I still plan on visiting Israel, walking among the streets of the Armenian Quarter, touching the Western Wall, visiting the Dead Sea, and lively Tel-Aviv.

When all the dust has settled, so to speak, at least in the context of politics, I really don’t think this hypothetical question is relevant to our discussion: Would Armenia, for example, placed in the same difficult geopolitical position of necessity, sell weapons to Palestine—with the knowledge that they would use them to attack Israel? I don’t like to think about it because, if forced, as Israel today is, Armenia would probably act much the same way, and the reason for this being that culture and religion, like I’ve already said, provide no sustenance for the physical body; ultimately, politics deal very little with the metaphysical realm, insofar as ideals concern their existence, at the very least.

This article, however, is about culture and history; on these pages, the shared pain of genocide and suffering do matter. Werfel, Grossman, and Mandelstam can be heard. The historical presence of Armenians in the city of Jerusalem is relevant and is certainly felt. I must admit that I feel positively overwhelmed as I write this. In a strange way, I feel more connection to Israel than I’ve ever felt. I want to go there, take in the history, talk to the people, listen to their stories, tell them where I’m from, and just connect with them on a human level—outside the context of politics. I know this is possible because of how much we really have in common with each other. It’s a history that no amount of money, oil, economic advantage, or military superiority can equal.

Anyone who studies the past will be aware that the Ottoman Empire had to collapse in order for the Jews to have a chance at statehood in Palestine, a territory which the aforementioned empire controlled at that time. After WWI, as most of us know, that empire crumbled, and with this development arose the opportunity for the English finally to realize the goal of the Balfour Declaration, effectively leading to the creation of a Jewish state some thirty years later, something which wouldn’t have been possible without the Ottoman defeat that necessitated their relinquishing of Palestine to the victorious British. And today, while the mighty Turks have long gone, the Armenian presence in Jerusalem has remained.

I feel incredibly proud that we should have the distinction of having our own quarter, and while many people feel that it separates us from the rest of the Christian community in the city, I feel just the opposite, despite the fact that according to Adnan Abu Odeh’s article, “Religious Inclusion, Political Inclusion: Jerusalem as an Undivided Capital,” published in the Catholic University Law Review, “Armenians consider their quarter to be part of the Christian Quarter.” I certainly sympathize with this notion; however, Christianity itself is something unique for the Armenians as they were the first nation to adopt it as their official state religion.

Indeed, the Armenian presence in Jerusalem predates the Turkish arrival by at least a thousand years, when the former began arriving to the holy city shortly after their conversion to Christianity in the fourth century, whereas the Turks entered Europe only in the 14th century, and Jerusalem even later, in the 16th century; clearly, then, it isn’t “our city” or a city “from us,” as the great dictator known as Erdogan recently claimed—one of his most outrageous but nevertheless not his sole asinine remark.

Places aren’t the only thing which links Jewish people with Armenians. There are also important figures. I will not discuss every last person, historical personality, and event that connects our people; my aim will be to mention those Jews, like Werfel, Grossman, and Mandelstam, who’ve spoken and written at length about Armenia, mainly to try and convince my fellow countrymen that while it’s completely acceptable to be angry at Israel at this moment (let’s not fall prey to the song and dance of politeness), we shouldn’t forget that the Jewish people themselves are really not our enemies. In my heart, I’m convinced that the majority of Jews don’t approve of this particular action their government has taken, if only on a moral level. I believe that the people living in a nation which has endured the Shoah (an event so recent that some survivors are with us to this day) stand in solidarity with Armenians during our difficult time and it’s completely inconceivable to me how so many people with a direct and indirect connection to such a horrific event could be anything but upset—on a moral level—with the current actions of their government.

As I’ve said, there’s no room for politics in this article; it’s about people like Franz Werfel, without whom the Armenian Genocide would’ve been mostly forgotten had he not written The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. So powerful and popular was the book, that the Turkish lobby had to go through considerable lengths just to stop the movie from being made by MGM. In his foreword to the almost 900-page novel, Werfel wrote the following: “This book was conceived in March of the year 1929, during the course of a stay in Damascus. The miserable sight of maimed and famished-looking refugee children, working in a carpet factory, gave me the final impulse to snatch the incomprehensible destiny of the Armenian people from the Hell of all that had taken place.” When I read the book a year ago, I couldn’t for one second—nor did I want to—ever put down the book. I must reiterate that it’s definitely not an understatement to say that the event would’ve been largely forgotten were it not for Werfel’s efforts. Here he is pictured with representatives of the French-Armenian community, most likely in Paris.

A less well-known example is Vasily Grossman—the great Russian novelist, and dissident. Born on December 12th, 1905, in Berdichev, Ukraine, he volunteered to become a frontline correspondent after the outbreak of WWII. Along with being present at the Battle of Moscow, the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Kursk, and the Battle of Berlin, his account of the horrors at the Treblinka and Majdanek concentration camps are among the first eyewitness accounts of Nazi atrocities committed against the Jews. His extensive 1944 account, The Hell of Treblinka, was used at the Nuremberg Trials as evidence by the prosecution.

After the war, Grossman (pictured below) returned home, but became increasingly dissatisfied with the Soviet Regime and its repressiveness. In the 1950s, he began writing his long novel, Life and Fate, whose central premise was that communism and fascism are essentially alike, despite the fact that the former defeated the latter and liberated Europe from it. Shortly after submitting it for publication in 1959, the KGB raided his apartment, seized the carbon copies, his notebooks, and typewriter ribbons—it was naturally to Grossman’s advantage, however, that they didn’t know he was keeping two other copies of the novel with his friends. Still, Grossman died, in 1964, never knowing whether his work would ever be read. In 1974, with the help of the great dissident, Andrei Sakharov, the novel was smuggled out of the country by his friend Semyon Lipkin and it was published in 1980 in the West for the first time. Russia itself followed along in 1988.

When Grossman got into trouble with the Soviets, he was sent to Armenia by the authorities with the hopes that the trip would take his mind off the matter and get him to write something different. It was precisely this trip which produced the non-fiction work, The Armenian Sketchbook, the cover of which you see below.

Grossman spent his time in the country visiting the country’s most important sites, such as the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the oldest one in the world, along with Lake Sevan, and the Temple of Garni, the only Greco-Roman structure in the post-Soviet states, built in the first or second century of the Common Era. One of the most poignant passages from the book is the ending, where he describes a wedding scene: The speeches and toasts seem to be unrelated to the occasion, but he finally understands that they have everything to do with the wedding and Grossman at last realizes that he has been accepted into the Armenian circle, so to speak. He writes: “Never in my life have I bowed to the ground; I have never prostrated before anyone. Now, however, I bow to the ground before the Armenian peasants who, during the merriment of a village wedding, spoke publicly about the agony of the Jewish nation under Hitler, about the death camps where Nazis murdered Jewish women and children. I bow to everyone who, silently, sadly, and solemnly, listened to these speeches.” It’s for writers like this—books which will exist for as long as humanity lives—that Armenians must be thankful for. We must look past the politics and somehow reconcile our anger with Israel (which, again, like in the case of Turkey, we are justified in expressing) to see that the issue Armenian-Jewish relations is far more subtle and complex than we think it to be.

The last important Jewish figure who wrote about Armenia is Osip Mandelstam. Considered one of the greatest Russian poet, if not the greatest of the twentieth century, Mandelstam was the quintessential dissident. In the 1930s he was twice arrested by Stalin and sent into exile—the second time he was given five years in a labor camp, where he ultimately died. Due to the sensitive nature of his work, he often couldn’t even write it down. His wife, Nadezhda, a name which means “hope” in Russian (certainly a tragedy for him to have a wife with that name when there was so little of it left for him), would usually commit his poems to memory and write them down later.

Mandelstam visited Armenia in 1930 and stayed for eight months. In the midst of the ancient culture and picturesque countryside, the great poet rediscovered his creativity and composed one of his most powerful poems, inspired by the burnt-red landscape, ancient churches, and mountains. His visit produced the prose work, Journey to Armenia, along with his Armenian poetry cycle, which Ian Probstein so generously translated for Interlitq, along with commentary, and it can be read here. An excerpt worth quoting:

I always feel that my spirits are lifted when I read Mandelstam’s words, because as Probstein said, for Mandelstam, “even in Voronezh exile (1935-1937), which he perceives as ‘a lion’s den’ alluding to Daniel, he is still thirsty of life and thinks of an earthly paradise. Hence he viewed his brief journey to Armenia in 1930 not as escape from his harsh reality but as a discovery of the roots of humanity and civilizations.” It’s with this thirst for life, I believe, that we Armenians should move forward and continue living. We now face the same difficulties that Mandelstam encountered during his own life and we owe it to this great Jewish poet to continue fighting our own battles with the same courage and determination—until the very end.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

Why Armenia Can’t Survive Without Artsakh, an article by David Garyan

09/10/2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

Why Armenia Can’t Survive Without Artsakh

In 2011, my cousin, Ashkhen Arakelyan, who lives in Armenia, visited Ankara, Turkey to participate in a chemistry and mathematics olympiad. At the young age of 26, she’s already the mother of three boys, and although it seems like parenting is all she was destined for, Ashkhen is actually a very smart individual. For her academic achievements she was recognized by the former president, Serzh Sargsyan himself. In the end, and for our purposes, it really doesn’t matter what prize she won at the olympiad or that she got to shake the hand of the most powerful man in Armenia at the time—what matters is the thing she witnessed during her journey almost ten years ago. Walking into one of the rooms where the competition was being held, she saw this “map” hanging on a wall—go on, take all the time you need; it shouldn’t take long, however, to realize that this isn’t really a map but an ambition, an ideology, a dream, even.


(Photo by Ashkhen Arakelyan)

Images like this are rarely circulated outside Turkey proper—and for good reason. If you’ve ever heard of the word “pan-Turkism,” you’ll probably understand the meaning of this cartography—you’ll understand why the tiny nation of Armenia is nowhere to be found in between the two aforementioned countries and why Artsakh is depicted with the colors of Azerbaijan’s flag—it is after all recognized as a part of that country’s territory by international law; it’s a strange thing, however—this so-called international law. What power does it have anyways when Turkey has illegally occupied Northern Cyprus since 1974 and that very same international community which tries to do Azerbaijan justice has been unable to punish Turkey for the very thing that Azeris have accused Armenians of doing—occupying their territory; that’s another point, however. Turks have a right to protect Turkish-speakers in Cyprus, but Armenians can’t use the same justification to protect their own in Azerbaijan simply because the “brotherly” countries have already committed a genocide against us more than a hundred years ago and they won’t do it again. Thus, we should simply return all of Artsakh to a country which has already been complicit in trying to cleanse our populace and happily receive the highest autonomy they’re willing to give us in exchange, along with accepting the promise that they’ll protect our people—if you believe that, I have four words for you: Talysh-Mughan Autonomous Republic.

The Talysh people are an Iranian ethnic group who are indigenous to a region that’s shared between Azerbaijan and Iran, a territory spanning the South Caucasus and the southwestern shore of the Caspian Sea. They have their own language (called Talysh), and it’s one of the Northwestern Iranian languages. While this is all good and interesting, the problem was that in 1993, the Talysh decided they wanted to be independent—so they seized some territory in the southeast and formed their own state—which lasted a grand total of 66 days; this is the flag of their long-lived republic. Nice, isn’t it?

All jokes aside, however, the plight of the Talysh proves that Azerbaijan can’t be trusted with protecting the minority rights of Armenians—a Christian people their own children are taught to despise in grade school. If they couldn’t protect the rights of a Muslim minority—the Talysh—they surely won’t protect those of Armenians; this fact is even harder to deny for the very simple reason that an Azerbaijani historian by the name of Arif Yunusov has himself revealed that school textbooks describe Armenians with slurs such as “bandits” and “aggressors.” In Russian he writes: “В дальнейших разделах учебника авторы все больше и больше внимание уделяют армянам, которые и начинают восприниматься как ‘главные неверные в черных одеяниях.’ При этом, в отношении армян также используются все возможные негативные эпитеты (‘бандиты,’ ‘агрессоры,’ ‘коварные,’ ‘лицемерные’ и т.д.). Именно ‘коварные’ армяне помогли России в покорении Азербайджана, именно в результате ‘восстания армянских бандитов’ в Карабахе в 1920 г. основные силы азербайджанской армии оказались оттянуты от северных границ, чем воспользовалась 11-ая Красная Армия и вторглась в Азербайджан. Таким образом, ‘неверные в черных одеяниях вновь сделали свое черное дело.'” And so on and so on, tovarish.

With my more or less functional Russian, I’ve translated Yunusov’s statement in this way, but you’re more than welcome to copy and paste the text into Google: “In subsequent sections of the textbook, more and more attention is devoted to the Armenians, who are perceived as ‘the main traitors in black robes.’ In this respect, all the possible slurs (bandits, aggressors, insidious, hypocritical, and so on and so on) are also used in relation to Armenians. It was the insidious Armenians who helped Russia conquer Azerbaijan; it was due to the ‘uprising of Armenian bandits’ in Karabakh in 1920 that the main forces of the Azerbaijani army were pulled from the northern borders, which made possible the Red Army’s invasion of Azerbaijan.” Can the citizens of a country who go through such a school system possibly protect the rights of Armenians? This is a country in which hate against the Armenians isn’t just a fact, but an institution.

Moreover, according to Akram Aylisli, an Azerbaijani author and the first Turkic writer to publish a story on the Armenian Genocide, “The word ‘Armenian’ is a terrible curse in Azerbaijan, akin to a ‘Jew’ or ‘Nigger’ in other places. As soon as you hear ‘you behave like an Armenian!’ — ‘No, it’s you, who is Armenian!’ — that is a sure recipe for a brawl. The word ‘Armenian’ is equivalent to ‘enemy’ in the most deep and archaic sense of the word, something like ‘Tatar’ for our Russian forefathers, an evil and an age-old enemy.” Well, it’s good to know all that the next time I travel there. Wait a minute—with the “yan” at the end of my name (a dead giveaway of my ethnicity), I don’t think they’ll let me in anyways.

Although there’s really no time for any asides here, I must take a moment to acknowledge the contributions of Akram Aylisli. A highly decorated author in his native Azerbaijan, Aylisli was awarded the most prestigious honors that President Aliyev could bestow upon a writer; after publishing Stone Dreams, however, a novella about the Sumgait and Baku pogroms, the People’s Writer award so generously presented to him was revoked by the very same president who had conferred it; but the state didn’t stop there—his wife and son were fired from their jobs and he endured countless instances of harassment.

I’ve stated many times before that it’s always the artists who make real changes, rarely the politicians. As Thomas De Waal, an expert on the region and author of the book, Black Garden, writes, “With the dispute still unresolved, it is too much to ask to have the leaders acknowledge their own side’s guilt for these episodes—as a Serbian president finally did in 2013 for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. But both Aliyev and Pashinyan are actively obstructing conflict resolution by recycling conspiracy theories.” Indeed, this is also true for everyday people. For the Armenians all that matters is the pogrom of Sumgait, and for the Azeris they only remember the massacre of Khojaly.

Despite the existential danger Armenians face in Artsakh, international law has largely remained oblivious to the plight of minorities in general. The fact that bona fide independence is no longer so easy to win as it was before has something to do with the changing norms and attitudes about self-determination. According to Neil MacFarlane’s book, Western Engagement in the Caucasus and Central Asia, the international community, in the modern day, prefers to protect minority rights within the borders of existing states: “For better or worse, the West is committed to the attempt to address problems relating to minority rights within the context of acceptance of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the new states.” What does this signify? Well, that self-determination today has come to mean protecting the rights of persecuted individuals within the territory of an existing state, rather than compromising territorial integrity to safeguard the population—even a child can tell this formula is a little ridiculous. If the people are persecuted it’s because the dominant group hates them, so why would you expect the territorial borders (which are inherently there to secure the majority from invasion by foreign powers) of that country to protect a minority population residing precisely within the very boundaries of a nation that considers them “foreign” to itself?

As with almost everything in international law, however, which, after almost fifty years, hasn’t managed to kick Turkey out of Cyprus or prevented a single genocide, nothing really makes any sense, and this is just another reason why Oded Haklai writes the following in his own academic article—the title of which is much too long: “Thus, whereas self-determination provided the premise for the formation of new states on territories ruled by empires and colonial powers, in the contemporary statist world, the principle of territorial integrity checks the capacity of minorities within existing states to win independent statehood.” Again, all that’s good and well in the context of international law, but theory often conflicts with the facts on the ground. It has already been shown that Azerbaijan is more or less incapable of protecting minority rights, and should the Armenians of Artsakh give up their ancestral homeland in exchange for the highest autonomy, it’s almost certain that within a short time, Azerbaijan will “find” some excuse to intervene in the territory—any reason will do here, but let’s try this one: The Armenians are acting up, and in the interest of the state we must quash their “rebellion” which is threatening the existence of Azerbaijan; shortly thereafter, the government will “encourage” Azeris to settle the area and that will be all she wrote for the “autonomy” that an authoritarian state had so generously bestowed upon Artsakh Armenians. It’s not like Artsakh has the privilege of being Basque Country or Catalonia—autonomous states within a peaceful, democratic country, allowing them to be (relatively) sure that Spain will keep on respecting their rights, should they never attain independence.

No, especially after the murder of Gurgen Margaryan in Hungary by an Azeri officer whose name I won’t pronounce (my article on this), it’s especially evident that Armenia can’t settle for anything but full recognition, no matter how much that demand goes against the norms of modern international law. Why should Kosovo be allowed to secede and not Artsakh? In this sense, the international community is picking and choosing. Territorial integrity for Ukraine, independence for Kosovo, territorial integrity for Azerbaijan, and so on and so on. Perhaps, the Armenians of Artsakh could accept a deal in which they agreed to return everything in exchange for the highest autonomy possible—were it not for this map. Look at it again and tell me if we can really do that?

The image above will show you precisely what the ambitions of those two “brotherly” countries are; it will show you that Armenia is the last obstacle between the existence of an entire nation and the “fraternal” desire to revive the Ottoman Empire. Where is Armenia? If you don’t see it, you’re not alone, because in the eyes of Erdogan and Aliyev, it doesn’t exist. Who cares, however, what two dictators think? According to the Armenian Community Council of the UK, “Armenia is the only country remaining from 3,000 year old maps of Anatolia,” and even though two dictators would like to change that, they won’t wipe away our borders. They can’t achieve their goal unless Artsakh falls and they know this very well.

Take a look at the more modern cartography which depicts Armenia’s territorial boundaries precisely according to international law. On the left, you have the exclave of Nakhichevan (belonging to Azerbaijan) and on the right you have Azerbaijan itself; the tiny strip of land that separates the two is called Zangezur and it’s not difficult to imagine where the offensive to swallow up Armenia would begin if Artsakh were to fall. Look at this map and tell me how long Armenia can survive without holding on to the territory that neither exists in the eyes of international law, nor in the minds of Erdogan and Aliyev?

This is no longer a war about territorial integrity; contrary to their claims and assertions about international law, it’s never been about that. Why does the enemy need to recruit Syrian jihadists to fight for them (a fact which can no longer be disputed) if this is a war for their own righteous goal of territorial integrity? Do they really want to win it with the help of terrorists? And if this is really just a war for that aforementioned goal and nothing else, why bomb a nineteenth century church that’s situated in a place where no military or even civilian targets are in the immediate vicinity? This is the cathedral in Shushi before it was shelled. Do you see anything worth targeting around it?

Of course, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry has denied singling out the religious site, saying its army “doesn’t target historical, cultural and, especially, religious buildings and monuments,” but if that’s the case, what exactly were they aiming at and how did they miss it so badly?

Many often wonder why Armenians are so “hysterical.” They don’t understand why we amplify our grief beyond reason. They can’t grasp why we subject ourselves to suffering more than we should. It’s because very few people really understand our history. Almost no one notices the precarious position we find ourselves in, surrounded by rocks upon rocks, which are harmless, and two hostile powers with whom both our borders are closed.

One of the most important American novelists of the twentieth century, William Saroyan, wrote the following in a short story called “The Armenian and the Armenian,” published in his second book, Inhale and Exhale in 1936:

Saroyan was wrong, however. He died in 1981 and didn’t live to see Artsakh return to Armenia; Artsakh is Armenia—it can only be this way if we’re to survive as a nation. I know this statement will offend some people. I know that as someone studying human rights, I must be objective. I must protect the lives of all individuals. In my eyes, a persecuted Azeri must be no different than an Armenian in the same circumstance, and I’ll always believe in that; however, the loss of this territory doesn’t threaten the very existence of Azerbaijan, whereas Armenia’s survival depends entirely on holding it.

Many individuals I study with are afraid of speaking out—afraid of offending anyone, but that’s precisely what human rights work will require of us. If you can’t stand to be uncomfortable and risk making others angry, how will you ever protect the rights of those who are persecuted by a government that hates you for protecting them? No, if you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t embark on this profession and that’s why I must offend my colleagues at this time to stand up for the truth in which I believe, a fact which is captured in the statement made by the great Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov: “For Azerbaijan, Karabakh is matter of ambition; for the Armenians of Karabakh, it is a matter of life and death.” May peace come to you all.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

 

 

The Armenian Diaspora in South America, an article by David Garyan

September 4th, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

The Armenian Diaspora in South America

With its population at just under three million, Armenia, like Israel, holds the distinction of having a diaspora which is substantially larger than its number of inhabitants residing solely within their respective national borders; with regard to the aforementioned countries, there are very specific reasons for this population imbalance—genocide and discrimination in general being the main factors that drove people away from the places in which they were being persecuted—the search for a more peaceful life somewhere else.

In the Middle East, the UN-approved partition of Palestine in 1947 ultimately led to the creation of Israel in 1948. Since this establishment of an independent state for the Jewish people, more than three million individuals have made the decision to move.

The Law of Return, passed in 1950, played a large part in this process, essentially giving Jews the right to come and reside in Israel, along with gaining its citizenship. These efforts were incredibly successful, which is why, as of today, the country’s population stands at approximately five million—and still its diaspora around the world is far greater.

A similar decree for Armenians was enacted by Stalin in 1945, authorizing individuals living abroad who wished to return the right to do so. Those who had been displaced by the First World War and the genocide, thus, began to arrive in large numbers, but the program wasn’t as successful as its more famous Israeli counterpart. The photo below (dated 1947) shows a group of Armenians waiting in Naples before their scheduled departure for Armenia on a Soviet Rossiya ship.

Armenia’s diaspora—when viewed in relation to its home population—is even more pronounced than the Jewish one, constituting more than ten million people—three times the amount residing within the homeland’s borders. More recent events, such the 2018 Velvet Revolution, which brought about the peaceful dismantling of Serzh Sargsyan’s corrupt government, have actively encouraged further repatriation from the Armenian community, but it hasn’t been substantial; and perhaps this isn’t necessarily such a bad thing as this article will attempt to demonstrate.

The fact that countries like Ireland, Italy, and Lebanon also have diasporas which are much larger than the population living within their own respective national borders illustrates that migration is multifaceted, complex, and can’t simply be reduced to genocide alone. Although famine and lack of economic opportunity did drive Irish migration in the 19th century, many Italians, for example, wanted to purchase land—they, hence, migrated to America in order to this earn this money and subsequently repatriated after achieving their goal. As it did for the Irish, however, the lack of economic opportunity also played a large part in driving permanent migration for those arriving from Italy. When the country was finally united in the 19th century—officially becoming the so-called nation of Italy in 1861—not everyone went on to feel “Italian” as a result.

It’s important to understand that even today, the people we call Italians generally associate themselves more with their respective regions than the country as a whole; the presence of countless dialects (many of them different enough to be their own language) are evidence of this incredible variety. Even the dialects themselves have variation—there’s a difference, for example, in the way Sicilian is spoken in Palermo and how it’s spoken in Catania. Hence, the popular joke people often make is that before unification (which resulted in the imposition of a standard “Italian” language on the whole territory), people from Naples and Milan, for instance, would have to speak French in order to understand each other. Furthermore, the famous line delivered shortly after Italy’s unification by Massimo d’Azeglio further emphasizes the idea of how nations really are artificially constructed, and, in fact, not as old as we believe them to be: “We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians.” Thus, we can say that while the aforementioned territory witnessed the rise of ancient civilizations like the Romans and Etruscans, the united “country” of Italy itself is less than 200 years old.

Why this long aside, which, at best, only slightly relates to the topic? The answer is that contrary to the current position of the Armenian government, too much repatriation may not be a good thing because while it would most likely benefit Armenia as a nation, it still remains to be seen whether those who return home will feel “Armenian” themselves. More importantly, the positive influences and impact which the diaspora makes on other cultures would also greatly diminish, if not disappear as well. The way Italian-Americans like Amadeo Giannini (founded Bank of America—the largest bank in the country) and Antonio Meucci (credited by the US Congress with the invention of the telephone) have gone on to create a positive image of their people abroad, so, too, Armenians have done a great deal in cultivating a good impression of their people outside the respective borders of the home nation.

The contribution of Armenians towards the betterment of US society is already well-known: Raymond Damadian, for example, invented the MRI machine, which has given countless medical professionals around the world greater capabilities to diagnose and treat patients. Thus, Damadian (pictured below with a prototype of the machine) is known as “The Father of the MRI.”

Apart from civilian contributions, Armenians have also made positive contributions in America’s armed forces—Ernest H. Dervishian is one such example. For his service in WWII, he received the nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor, incidentally for his heroic actions “in the vicinity of Cisterna, Italy,” according to official military documents. The photo below shows General Eisenhower meeting with Lieutenant Dervishian on his visit to Richmond in the 1940s.

Dervishian and Damadian are but two of the lesser known figures of Armenians making positive contributions towards the betterment of North America (in particular the US); therefore, the aim of this article will be to highlight the contributions made by Armenians in South America, a continent which has received less attention in this respect.

The largest Armenian community in all of Latin America is in Argentina and numerous prominent individuals have come out of there as a result. Perhaps the most notable figure is Alejandro Yemenidjian (also known as Alex); although many people are familiar with him, few know that he was actually born in Buenos Aires and not in the US. Furthermore, those who have absolutely no idea who Yemenidjian is will surely know the company for which he once served as director from 1989 to 2005—MGM. He was also the co-owner and CEO of the famous Tropicana Las Vegas resort. A good friend of the late billionaire Kirk Kerkorian—who himself purchased MGM in 1969—Yemenidjian was essentially employed by the man responsible for building the modern Las Vegas. As the executive, Yemenidjian’s duties were to oversee the day to day operations of MGM studios, and as director, he was also responsible for managing the operations of MGM Resorts International. At the time of its opening in 1973, the MGM Grand was the biggest hotel in the world, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal, which also wrote the following about Kerkorian: “In Las Vegas, he built three hotels that were the largest in the world in their time,” further highlighting the role which the late billionaire played in shaping the city. The Tropicana Las Vegas lies in the heart of Las Vegas Blvd, not far from the neon-green lights of the MGM Grand.

Armenians in Argentina also excel in sports and the most prominent athlete is tennis player David Nalbandian, who won the Tennis Masters Cup (ATP Finals) in 2005 after beating Roger Federer. Without a Grand Slam or Masters Series title to his name, Nalbandian became the first player to win the cup without having initially acquired one of the two aforementioned titles. His highest ranking was third in the world.

Despite the number of prominent Armenians which exist in South America, it would be improper to talk about their contributions without mentioning those of the ordinary people (I use this term in the most positive sense). Indeed, the vibrant Armenian community which exists in Buenos Aires is just one example of how the diaspora has secured its presence in the city outside of sports and entertainment. The Colegio Armenio De Vicente Lopez, for example, serves kids who are in preschool up to the secondary grades, providing kids not only with a quality education but also functioning as a cultural center where such arts as dancing and singing are promoted.

A street called Armenia, in the Palermo neighborhood of the city, traverses roughly twelve blocks, and likewise bears witness to the Armenian presence in Buenos Aires; nearby there’s an Armenian plaza and also the Cathedral of St. Gregory the Illuminator, along with a restaurant and various shops; there are three other Armenian churches in the city, but this one is the most recognizable.

The South American country with the second-largest Armenian population is Brazil. It should be noted that although they have a formidable presence in São Paulo, there aren’t many Armenians to be found throughout the entire country. The city’s diaspora community can be traced back to the 1920s.

One of the most notable displays of Brazilian solidarity was the renaming of a metro station—originally called Ponte Pequena but changed to Armênia in 1985, paying tribute to the Armenian immigrants who helped in its construction. In return, Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, renamed one of its squares after Brazil.

There are prominent Armenian personalities as well. Krikor Mekhitarian, born in São Paulo, won the Brazilian Chess Championship twice and he’s only 33 years of age as of today. Another recognizable personality is Stepan Nercessian, a Brazilian actor who also entered politics later in his career. As of 2019, he was still making movies, although he no longer seems to be involved in government.

Elsewhere in South America, in this case Colombia, a town with the most curious name exists. Nicknamed “Miracle City,” Armenia, is located approximately 300 km southwest of Bogotá, sitting at a height of almost 1,500 meters above sea level, with a population of over 300,000. Noted for its excellent coffee growing industry, it’s no surprise, then, that this town would be named after a country whose people are great lovers of strong coffee themselves. Despite thousands of kilometers diving the two Armenias from each, the city and country nevertheless share a history. When on January 25th, 1999, a strong earthquake rocked the capital of the departamento of Quindio, more than 1000 people died and over 200,000 found themselves homeless. The event, as scholar Vartan Matiossian wrote in his article, “An Enduring Myth: The Origin of Name ‘Armenia’ in Colombia,” put the name “Armenia” back on the map, given how just over ten years before, Armenia had suffered its own massive earthquake, killing thousands and leaving thousands more homeless. The photo below depicts a scene from the devastation in Armenia—Colombia, that is.

According to Matiossian, the fact that Armenia, Colombia “re-established itself with both speed and determination is a testament to the gritty fortitude of the Armenian population, many of whom played an active role, in literally, piecing the city back together,” hence the nickname “Miracle City.” Exactly why, however, the city bears a name of a country and people who are almost nowhere to be found in Colombia is a case that has puzzled the scholar as well: “Its presence in a South American country without a significant Armenian population has brought up various conjectures.” One hypothesis states that the town was renamed in honor of the Armenian Genocide victims, but this can’t be true because the place acquired its name in 1889; another theory is that it was named after the ancient kingdom of Armenia, but this is also inconclusive. What’s of greater interest, however, is the fact that, according to Matiossian, there’s actually another Armenia in Colombia, roughly 300 km north of the Quindio one:

Given that Colombia, as mentioned before, is a country where Armenians are practically non-existent, one does wonder: Why did the nation honor Armenia not once, but twice? In Brazil and Argentina, for instance, where the population is substantial, we find no examples of entire cities being named in this way—surely there are streets and even metro stations, but entire cities? That has yet to happen. It seems there really is no verifiable answer that Matiossian can give as to the reason for the names, except the case of Colombia’s love for coffee, which the Armenians do indeed share. As Matiossian writes, “Stocks in Colombian light coffee are known in New York’s Coffee, Sugar and Cocoa Exchange with the acronym MAM (Medellin, Armenia, Manizales)” and likewise the great writer Paul Theroux wrote the following in his book Riding the Rails with Paul Theroux, which was also used by Matiossian as an epigraph introducing his essay: “He worked in Cali but did not like picking coffee in Cali. The pay was poor and the coffee was not much good either. ‘Armenia is where the best coffee comes from,’ he said. ‘It is the best in the whole of Colombia.’ In Armenia the pay was better—the highest prices went for Armenia’s coffee.” I think coffee, at this point, may be the best explanation for why the Colombian town was given its respective name.

Last, but certainly not least, is Uruguay, which in 1965, became the first nation to recognize the Armenian Genocide on the fiftieth anniversary of the event. Although Armenian immigrants had been making their way to the country’s shores as early as the 19th century, it wasn’t until after the genocide that large numbers of people began settling there. Uruguay, in that sense, is home to one of Latin America’s oldest Armenian communities, with several churches, organizations, and cultural centers in existence.

By no means is this an exhaustive presentation of the positive contributions which Armenians have made in South America. In fact, many of these things are already widely known—the real aim of this article was to demonstrate that despite the improvements which the Velvet Revolution of 2018 made in Armenia with regard to human rights, political freedom, and the fight against corruption, it should perhaps minimize its focus on repatriation, given how much impact the diaspora has been able and continues to make all across the world. Indeed, Armenia needs all the talented people it can get; however, Armenians themselves likewise need a strong diaspora to ensure the survival of their respective cultures, all unique in their own way; thus, it’s precisely the community abroad which plays an essential role in exposing the customs and traditions of the respective nation to others—whether through art, scientific innovation, business, or politics; all this is being achieved as we speak.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

The Rohingyas and Their Plight of Denial: An Armenian Glance, an article by David Garyan

August 26th, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

The Rohingyas and Their Plight of Denial: An Armenian Glance

On August 24th, I received an email from one of the representatives of Free Rohingya Coalition, an organization which, according to its own webpage, describes itself as a “network of Rohingya activists and friends of Rohingyas who share common concerns about Myanmar’s on-going genocide and the need for Rohingya survivors to play an active role in seeking a viable future for their group,” inviting me to join an event called “FRC Global Virtual Rally to Commemorate Myanmar Genocide of 2017,” which would take place on Facebook Live the following day.

Not only as a descendant of genocide survivors, but, also, more importantly, as a student of human rights at the University of Bologna, I certainly felt sympathy for the plight of the Rohingyas. It’s incidentally the University of Bologna which conferred Aung San Suu Kyi (the Nobel Prize laureate who’s now the State Counsellor of Myanmar) with an honorary doctorate in philosophy—a regretful decision given the fact she’s been largely silent about these issues. Our cohort signed a petition asking the university to strip her of the aforementioned degree, but that’s really another matter.

Although the blood of our own cause is now fully dry on the pages of history, having occurred over a hundred years ago, genocide remains genocide—nevertheless, it’s hard to deny that the more recent the tragedy is, the more immediate and pressing its concerns are. At the same time, the old argument of what happens when we constantly relegate history to the dustbin in favor of the future also remains—horrors of the past are both repeated and simultaneously also seen as something new, mostly because people forget that these “current” events are just repetitions of the past situated in new circumstances. Yesterday they killed people with swords; today they kill them with guns.

Let’s, however, return to the argument, which isn’t about the relevance or irrelevance of tragedies; what it’s really about is the Rohingyas who’ve been systematically persecuted by the Burmese government and continue to suffer. The genocide could be said to have begun in October 2016 with the military crackdown of the Muslim population in the northwestern region of Myanmar. The UN, various newspapers, and independent journalists have documented the crimes and reached the conclusion that the military’s actions constitute genocide.

Sexual violence, burnings, and forced displacements are just some of the tactics employed by the government to institute its policy of ethnic cleansing. The government, naturally, rejects any notion that it’s committing genocide and, in this respect, denial is precisely the final stage of genocide.

The argument about denial being just another form of ethnic cleansing holds for this reason: First you literally destroy the people, then you metaphorically murder the memories of the event by denying that the crime ever took place. The noted UCLA Professor Emeritus Richard G. Hovannisian said the following regarding denial: “Following the physical destruction of a people and their material culture, memory is all that is left and is targeted as a last victim. Complete annihilation of a people requires the banishment of recollection and suffocation of remembrance.” It will certainly take some time before the actual killings of Rohingya people stop and the genocide moves into a space entirely governed by philosophical annihilation—cleansing through rationality, if you will; after more than a hundred years, this aforementioned “logical” frontier is the one on which the Armenian Genocide is now currently occurring, with the government of Turkey doing everything in its power to silence all research which has already produced conclusive proof about the matter and continues to do so. But again, current events are always more pressing and so here’s another image from Myanmar.

In the past, the Institute of Turkish Studies, a United States research foundation established in 1982—with the help of a three million dollar grant from the Turkish government—occupied a considerable space in various history and Middle East departments, issuing scholarships to undergraduates, providing grant money to researchers, and giving language study awards, among other things, in order to “influence” both students and professors in how they approached the sensitive issue of the Armenian Genocide. Thus, it’s no longer a secret that in the late 80s, the government of Turkey began founding chairs and sometimes even entire institutions focused on Turkish language and history—the most prominent example being the Atatürk chair in Turkish studies at Princeton University—along with a research center in the Capitol called Institute of Turkish Studies. Many prominent academics—and by no coincidence whatsoever also the most fanatic deniers of the Armenian Genocide—ended up being products of those departments; Justin McCarthy, Heath W. Lowry, and Stanford Shaw making up some of the more well-known examples. In 1985, Lowry was the key figure in convincing roughly seventy academics to sign a statement arguing against the recognition of the Armenian Genocide—something which was printed in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

It was a great victory for the Turkish government, but sweet success didn’t last too long. Just over ten years later, the New York Times ran an article called “Princeton Is Accused of Fronting For the Turkish Government,” in which it was discovered that “the university accepted $750,000 from the Government of Turkey to endow a new Atatürk Chair of Turkish Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and hired a professor, Heath W. Lowry, who had worked for the Turkish government, as executive director of the Washington-based Institute of Turkish Studies.” A year later, in 1997, UCLA returned a one million dollar grant given to them by the Turkish government to create a department in Ottoman studies after an investigation revealed that scholars who attempted to use the archives in Istanbul wouldn’t be allowed to access any material that could be sensitive to the tragic events of 1915.

Even more poignantly, in the year 2000, three years after UCLA had returned the one million dollar “donation,” when the US House of Representatives was scheduled to discuss the Armenian Genocide resolution, a Turkish politician by the name of Şükrü Elekdağ openly admitted that Lowry’s 1985 statement had not only become irrelevant but furthermore useless because not one of the original 69 signatories besides Justin McCarthy had agreed to sign a similar declaration.

In a surprising move, Turkey ceased funding the institute in 2015, yet its policy of denial has continued in more subtle, nuanced ways.

The country’s main strategy has always been to sow doubt in the minds of both ordinary citizens and scholars regarding the events of 1915, which is the real reason why it calls for repeated historical investigations—not in the interest of truth but to fish out academics willing to “interpret” the facts in ways which would justify Turkey’s stance of denial on the issue.

And who better to do the interpreting than historians? In a healthy academic environment, interpretation is precisely what’s necessary to arrive at an objective conclusion, but in the hands of those seeking to distort history, this very same “interpretation” also works very well if you have people who are willing to play ball only for your side—the latter type of interpretation and historical “research” is precisely what the Turkish state is after, mainly because it has already lost the main battle long ago; in this respect, various governments such as France, Germany, and more recently the US congress, have implemented legislation recognizing the Armenian tragedy as a genocide.

Furthermore, the International Association of Genocide Scholars wrote the following in a 2006 open letter: “Scholars who deny the facts of genocide in the face of the overwhelming scholarly evidence are not engaging in historical debate, but have another agenda. In the case of the Armenian Genocide, the agenda is to absolve Turkey of responsibility for the planned extermination of the Armenians—an agenda consistent with every Turkish ruling party since the time of the Genocide in 1915.” Pretty strong statement, I would say.

Victories like the ones I’ve mentioned have, thus, forced Turkey to look for other ways to sow doubt in the minds of both people and academics, which brings me back to the case of the Rohingya; in this sense, I must ask why a spokesperson for Anadolu Agency was so enthusiastic to speak on behalf of the aforementioned oppressed and to defend them against the horrors of ethnic cleansing when they themselves have devoted numerous pages to doing everything possible to manipulate and discredit the validity of the genocide their own government has committed? Taking advantage of the fact that it’s utterly impossible for the Free Rohingya Coalition to do complete background checks and investigate all of the panelists which they either invite or those who submit unsolicited proposals to speak, Anadolu Agency must have slipped through the cracks, but I really can’t say for sure. In all honesty, with regard to our Turkish friends, I don’t know which scenario we’re dealing with here, but I don’t believe the organization responsible for protecting the Rohingya is to blame in this matter. After all, Anadolu Agency did agree to broadcast the event “through its 13 world languages programme,” probably bringing considerable attention to the plight of Rohingyas, but we must nevertheless question Turkey’s motives for doing so.

As far as motives are concerned, let’s begin here: When reading any Anadolu article regarding the Armenian Genocide, one initially does get the sense that they’re simply reporting on the incidents surrounding the event, but a simple search reveals that the news agency hasn’t published a single piece regarding the positive gains Armenian activists have made in securing justice for themselves—no, all the reports are either about an obscure “expert” challenging the events, Turkish officials slamming other countries that go on to recognize the events as genocide, and, likewise gleefully reporting on those nations which have refused to recognize the plight of the Armenians. Not a single article in the style of their Rohingya campaign can be found on the Anadolu Agency website regarding the need for justice in the case of 1915; nor is there anything about the necessity to help Armenians in their cause—not one piece. I’m tempted to ask: Why is their solidarity nowhere to be found in this particular case?

In that sense, I wasn’t surprised to read the following in a scholarly article by the Turkish intellectual Dağhan Irak: “the state-run media Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) and Anadolu Agency (AA) companies have been subsidized and restructured in line with the government agenda. These public news producers, especially during the most recent term of the AKP government, have been controlled by officials from a small network close to the party leadership.” Since the official government line has always been to deny classifying the Armenian tragedy as genocide, it’s no surprise why Anadolu Agency takes such a passive-aggressive view towards the issue.

More pertinent to the point, however, is their strategy to deflect their campaign of historical distortion by precisely supporting the causes of other populations who’ve endured genocide—people like the Rohingya—in order to give the impression that their editorial policy really isn’t based around genocide denial. In other words, by supporting the campaign for justice with respect to other countries, Anadolu Agency tries to portray itself as a benevolent force which is only out to seek truth and that no matter how negatively it portrays the struggle for recognition on the part of Armenians, this is more about the doubtful validity of the Armenian Genocide itself and really has less to do with its own dishonest stance on genocides in general.

Again, nothing but negative coverage of 1915, and, in fact, Armenian issues in general is published. Accusations of Armenians keeping their genocide archives closed (which as we already saw is an issue that Turkey is really guilty of), Spain’s rejection of Armenia’s genocide motion, and the tired old Turkish national line of propaganda, which is copied and pasted verbatim into at least four other articles I’ve read—excellent state-sponsored journalism:

Just to drive the point home, here’s another article about Anadolu Agency’s gleeful reporting about Serbia’s rejection of the genocide bill—with the same copied and pasted journalism as the Spanish article.  They really need to pay their writers better.

And for a good laugh, here’s the Dutch version of good old copy and paste journalism so graciously provided to you by the Turkish state.

And since we’re already having so much fun exposing the assembly line tactics of state-sponsored journalism factories, why not show this one about the Swiss as well?

As already stated, these “joint commissions” are dishonest ways to try, for the last time, to rewrite the honest scholarship which has already been done numerous times in this area. “Good” historical research which has gone so far as to make a definitive statement on an issue really doesn’t need to be repeated for the millionth time. In other words, why is it considered a downright insult to form those so-called “joint commissions” to verify the veracity of the Holocaust while the attempt to do the same for the Armenian Genocide is seen as a normal occurrence?

It’s no surprise, then, that Turkey is now finding different ways to make itself look like the good guy—standing up and speaking on behalf of other groups currently experiencing genocide while doing everything in its power to silence the people against whom the state has committed violence itself. It’s hard to imagine who they’re trying to fool, but, like the academic “bribery” campaigns of the 80s and 90s, this too shall pass.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

Yesterday Karabakh, Today Artsakh, part II, an article by David Garyan

July 23rd, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

Part I

Yesterday Karabakh, Today Artsakh, part II

As a follow-up to my article on the situation in Artsakh, I wanted to take the time to further underscore the fact that, despite Armenia’s victory in the conflict, the area remains disputed and isn’t recognized on the international level or by any UN member state. I wrote the article in response to the all hateful propaganda directed towards Armenians, which I’d been encountering on the internet over the past weeks, as the conflict was starting to escalate; and if there’s despicable propaganda on one side, you can be sure the same phenomenon is playing out in the other aisle as well. I can’t stress enough that both camps are guilty, but it seems like the majority of Turkish or Azeri people with whom I’ve had discussions just want to highlight the wrongdoings of the other side and never their own. I’m sure individuals from Turkey and Azerbaijan feel the same way when they encounter an Armenian, which is precisely why tensions escalate quickly and haphazardly, as was the case in Los Angeles recently, where Armenian protesters clashed with Azeris. According to the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), the Azeris who showed up to the protest were chanting “Death to Armenia.” The newspaper which published the story didn’t confirm this but did embed ANCA’s Twitter post about the matter into the actual article.

Given the contentious history, there are always excuses for any hostilities between the peoples of both nations. On the Armenian side, for example, there’s much to be said about the Baku pogrom or Sumgait massacre, but very few openly comment on the horrors of Khojaly, for example. Why is that? Before we even get into a discussion of the various massacres committed by each side, let’s take a moment to focus on the current situation. It’s only natural for both sides to blame each other for breaking the ceasefire and each camp has in the past been guilty of violating it; there can no doubt about that. In the most recent case, however, if we only look at the 170 signatories who signed the UN global ceasefire appeal during the COVID crisis, we see that Armenia’s name is on the list, and Azerbaijan’s name isn’t. What do we make of this?

Again, there’s really been enough finger-pointing and the purpose of this article is to offer a complementary perspective to my first piece which set out to describe some of Artsakh’s history and the important figures that were either responsible for its foundation or who later shaped it in some meaningful way; along with the inclusion of some history, I also used various statements by US senators and representatives in order to truly highlight the fact that Artsakh is a disputed region. While internationally it’s recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the presence of Armenians in the area goes back thousands of years and the arbitrary transfer of the region to Azerbaijan by Stalin in 1921 played an essential role in Armenia’s decision to occupy the territory roughly seventy years later; thus, by using the statements of US senators and representatives, the article aimed to show that even in America—which, at the federal level, recognizes the region as part of Azerbaijan—the only thing which remains clear is that Artsakh is a disputed territory; it may belong to Azerbaijan, but self-determination has always proven to be a thorn in the side concerning issues like this.

It’s for all those aforementioned reasons that a complementary piece to the initial article is necessary in order to further show that while international recognition of the territory has never been disputed, international support in this matter isn’t only given to Azerbaijan, whose guilt alongside that of Armenia will be discussed.

In the interest of fairness, let’s begin with Armenia’s wrongdoing and subsequently discuss that of Azerbaijan. For starters, the Nagorno-Karabakh War resulted in Azerbaijan losing around twenty percent of its territory and displacing, according to a UN report, over 800,000 civilians. What Azeri authorities consistently fail to mention, however, is that, likewise, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there were “360,000 ethnic Armenians who arrived in Armenia from Azerbaijan from 1988 to 1993 as a result of the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.” So displacement, unlike Azeri authorities would have us believe, isn’t really a one-way street.

Both sides suffered a great deal and the important thing isn’t to make it a competition but to acknowledge the humanity of both sides, which leads to the next point: During the Nagorno-Karabakh War, atrocities were committed by Armenian and Azeri forces alike. Again, in the interest of fairness, let’s begin with those committed by Armenians: The most notable in this respect is the 1992 Khojaly Massacre; the Azeri government claims that more than 600 lives were lost, but a 1993 Human Rights Watch report states the following:

On the Azeri side, no discussion can be complete without first mentioning the 1988 Sumgait pogrom. Again, like Azeri sources, those of Armenia are exceptionally liberal when it comes to calculating death-toll estimates, placing the number at over 200 while a Minorities at Risk (more about this project) report records the Armenian casualties at twenty-six, along with six dead Azeris. Although much lower than the figures at Khojaly, the more unfortunate thing about this is that Armenia experienced a devastating earthquake only ten months later, killing over 25,000 people and leaving over 500,000 without homes. According to another report by the same agency: “In the ensuing relief effort, Azerbaijan continued to block all shipments into Armenia. In response to what Azerbaijan authorities saw as attempts to annex Karabakh, Azerbaijan moved to punish Armenia and Armenians by firing Armenian workers and expelling them from their homes in Azerbaijan.” All this happened during a period when Armenia was experiencing its most severe crisis; now, they’ve refused to sign a UN ceasefire agreement during a pandemic. Let me ask: Where’s the humanity in that? In 1988, I was only one year old when the earthquake hit. My mother carried me out of a building in her arms, but enough sentimentality. Instead here’s an image from that event depicting what seems to be two men digging for survivors.

In many respects the Khojaly massacre perpetrated by Armenian forces was an act of revenge for the horrors of Sumgait; the former was orchestrated on the 26th of February, 1992 while the latter occurred on the 26th of February, 1988, culminating on March 1st of that same year. It’s this vicious cycle that I mention in the first article that causes so many problems in the resolution of this conflict. Payback after payback and it really doesn’t matter at this point who started the most recent fighting or even who began it in the first place—the only thing that matters is who’ll be the one to decide that it’s over.

Let’s continue with another Azeri massacre of Armenians—in this case Maragha—in which, according to multiple Amnesty International (AI) reports, between 45 to 100 people were killed, and not simply that, as stated by one source; their bodies were disfigured and indiscriminately thrown into mass graves. This particular AI document  states the following and the full report quoted below can be viewed here:

This dossier compiled in 1993 by the same agency gives a lower death-toll and this is meant to demonstrate that there can be contrasting perspectives in eyewitness accounts, along with the fact that different reports may focus on important matters that another source may choose to leave out—things such as hostages that were never found or wounded individuals who didn’t necessarily perish during or immediately after the massacre but nevertheless died as a result of their injuries later on; naturally, we may give both sides the benefit of such doubts.

One of the biggest atrocities committed by Armenian forces was during the Capture of Shusha; this can be considered the turning point of the war as it signified the first major victory for the country. Azerbaijan claims that more than 193 lives were lost. I couldn’t find official data on this, but, in the interest of solidarity, let’s just say this was the case. Due to the heavy fighting, the city was reduced to rubble, as this picture shows.

James Carney’s article “Carnage in Karabakh” in Time magazine had this to say about the extent of the damage: “scarcely a single building escaped damage in Stepanakert.” War doesn’t justify the killing of civilians, so let’s not pretend otherwise, even if it serves Armenian interests to use that rationale. Who are we really benefiting with arguments like this when they can just as easily be made by the other side? What’s interesting is that seventy-two years ago a massacre against the Armenians was carried out in this very same city, causing the destruction of the entire Armenian-populated quarter; according to Thomas de Waal‘s book, Black Garden, approximately 500 people lost their lives and the event resulted in the removal of the town’s entire Armenian population.

Indeed, though deadly and gruesome, the massacres during the Nagorno-Karabakh War didn’t amount to nearly the same casualties as those which occurred before and immediately after the creation of the Soviet Union, which was able to suppress and shelve the conflict not long after its formation, relatively speaking.

The so-called March Days were responsible for over 10,000 casualties. Orchestrated by the Bolsheviks with the help of the Dashnaktsutyun (the Armenian Revolutionary Federation), it was an attempt to suppress a possible revolt against Soviet authorities by Azerbajain’s Musavat Party. To demonstrate how dirty politics in fact are, we may simply look at this example: During the period of Soviet Azerbaijan, more precisely in 1978, the country’s leader at the time, Heydar Aliev, issued the following statement at a meeting dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the birth of Stepan Shahumian (the man who helped the Bolsheviks orchestrate the March Days) in Baku on October 11, 1978: “В марте 1918 года мусаватисты подняли антисоветский мятеж в Баку, намереваясь задушить Советскую власть. Благодаря решительным и твердым мерам, принятым большевиками, мятеж был ликвидирован.” The verbatim English translation is as follows: “In March 1918, the Musavatists launched an anti-Soviet revolt in Baku, intending to strangle Soviet power. Thanks to the decisive and firm measures taken by the Bolsheviks, the rebellion was liquidated.” Exactly twenty years later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, of course, that very same leader, Heydar Aliev, according to a UN General Assembly Security Council report, issued a very different statement: “Taking advantage of the situation following the end of the First World War and the February and October 1917 revolutions in Russia, the Armenian nationalists began to pursue the implementation of their plans under the banner of Bolshevism. Under the watchword of combating counter-revolutionary elements, in March 1918, the Baku commune began to implement a criminal plan aimed at eliminating Azerbaijanis from the whole of Baku province.” What version are we really to believe?

The only thing crystal-clear here is that the same man isn’t simply an individual of his time, but a politician of it. Thus, which politician are we to believe—Soviet Aliev or the post-Soviet one? Should we believe that the Bolsheviks with the help of Stepan Shahumian are heroes for crushing an anti-Soviet revolt in Baku or that those very same Bolsheviks with the help of that traitorous Armenian were responsible for killing more than 12,000 people? Perhaps we can simplify things by complicating the issue with the addition of a scholar: According to Michael Smith’s article, “Anatomy of Rumor: Murder Scandal, the Musavat Party and Narrative of the Russian Revolution in Baku, 1917–1920,” which states: “The results of the March events were immediate and total for the Musavat. Several hundreds of its members were killed in the fighting; up to 12,000 Muslim civilians perished; thousands of others fled Baku in a mass exodus.” Issues like these are exactly what I was trying to highlight rather subtly in my first article, but since the point may not have gotten across to some people, I’ve decided to take a more direct approach. Let me pose the question again: Which Heydar Aliev do we believe?

Moving right back along now to Azeri atrocities committed against the Armenians. Aptly named the September Days, it’s not difficult to realize at this point that this event was an act of revenge for the March Days—a sort of reverse Khojaly, if you will. A 1995 Human Rights Watch report summarizes the two events nicely, although their death toll for the March Days could’ve perhaps been higher, but who cares about a few lives here and there, right? One death can be a genocide if there’s enough hate involved.

What do all these unfortunate events show? Precisely what I was trying to suggest in the first article: “Indeed, Azeris will never forget the atrocities of Khojaly while at the same time deliberately choosing to ignore the pogroms committed against Armenians in Sumgait, Baku, and Stepanakert; however, this has more to do with realizing political objectives than any kind of genuine hate for a people.” In this conflict, when one side has committed or commits an atrocity against the other side, it really isn’t that difficult to find something equivalent that has happened at some point in the past, or will probably happen in the future; all this needs to stop.

While Armenian and Azeri politicians are busy pointing fingers, people are dying; that was another thing which I initially attempted to illustrate by using the statements of US senators and representatives. The back-and-forth will never stop; tomorrow, an Azeri will find some other international lawmaker to back up his own cause and what will that really do to further the relations between the two countries themselves? Something else is needed—something besides politics. A few people I’ve spoken to about this disagree—they believe politics is the only solution. When I mentioned that our family knows an Armenian man and an Azeri woman who are married to each other, one person even discounted such cultural contact as not really relevant in the process towards building better relations between the respective countries; I find that very hard to believe.

Politics isn’t everything because the majority of Armenians and Azeris aren’t actually politicians; they’re just regular people. It’s therefore up to us to build bridges, to form bonds and go places where governments can’t take us. It’s my firm belief that the true resolution to this conflict will not come from the political arena but from Armenians and Azeris themselves. The eighteenth-century Armenian poet Sayat-Nova, who wrote both in Armenian and Azeri, along with Georgian as well, thought of himself, according to de Waal, precisely “as a bridge builder.” The poet was most content when, in de Waal’s words, he could move “between the different nations and regions of the Caucasus,” never tied down to a single identity. In one of his Azeri poems, he writes:

The word “nation” in the poem is ambiguous; however, Sayat-Nova’s biographer, Charles Dorsett (quoted in de Waal), states the following about why the poet may have chosen that specific word: “What nation? If the Armenian nation, or the Georgian, why is the poem in Azeri? It would seem his horizons are broader, and that he is thinking in such terms such as the Caucasian unity, in which Armenian, Georgian, and Azeri might live together in harmony, under the beneficent rule of a wise leader like Irakli II, and Azeri, as the common language, was the best vehicle for the message.” An Armenian poet writing in Azeri? Truly, this is something that both sides probably wouldn’t want to acknowledge, but it’s precisely what proves my point—politics isn’t the solution. It’s the power of art and culture that will serve to mediate whatever differences exist between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.